This is the time when much of North America grows dark and cold and celebrations become plentiful. It is a time of lights and candles and warm fires.
I grew up with an image that all people contain an inner light that needs only to be nurtured and tended to. I was taught by the great teachers of my childhood, to look for that light in every person and in that way life would never be too difficult. The goal, after all, was not great riches or accomplishments but the ability to good naturedly look for the that light in everyone without undo fear or intimidation.
This simple task turned out to be far more difficult than it was originally explained to me and now as the New Year begins, I sit in the dark early morning of Oregon lighting candles and trying to keep afloat.
You see, a year ago my fourteen year old grandson shot himself rather than return to school after winter break. I did not expect this anniversary to overwhelm me as much as it has. I am trying hard but nothing can keep the grief from rolling over me.
My beautiful daughter has moved into a new house and we buy small things for it at IKEA on his birthday. We try to start over while not wanting to loose him. We walk and wander and I count the moments before his death trying to relive the hours when I could have made a difference and can not make it turn out differently.
In Haiti, once a doctor said to me, "Do you think its okay for NGO's to come to Haiti and let health care workers learn here." I remember thinking in reply ( I did not say this ) "Do you think its okay for an old woman crazy with grief to come to your country because its the only place where loss is normal enough for her to bare it."
He went on to say that we were saving lives so it was better than nothing but not how it should be. I agreed and we talked. I hand him piles of papers to explain what we hope to accomplish in Haiti. I walk out into a sea of people crowding the streets and I think as I had thought many times. "I have run away from home. I am in Haiti, hoping to do some good, but mostly I am trying hard to believe in that inner light in all people and for some reason its proving easier in Haiti than it was in my own country.
How do I say that I feel more normal here than I do in a mall in the United States at Christmas. I have rarely met a person in Haiti who has not lost a child or a parent or a sister or a brother and so in that place and in that context, Nathan's death is woven into a the fabric of life. It is in everyone's eyes and so I feel okay and able to navigate.
Soon these anniversaries of his birthday, of Christmas and his death will pass. I will take down the tree and hug all the people who loved him close and walk out into the day. Morning will spread over the Cascade mountains as 2012 begins. We never know how a year will unfold; the joys, sorrows and challenges. I am crazy with missing Nathan this morning. They say that such pain can open us up and spin us around and help us to see the world through a new lens that we never had before. That when someone dies this is the gift they leave us; the gift to see the world as we never saw it before.
Its a tender earth we walk on no matter where we go or what we do. A friend, who also lost a child about Nathan's age wrote and said its like carrying a rock in your pocket. It is always there.
And so there can be no doubt that I carry the smooth, cool rock that is Nathan with me all the time in Haiti; reaching down to feel it when i am afraid or doubt myself.
It is possible that I would never have gone to Haiti if Nathan had not died; if I had not needed to grasp the world and understand her in new ways so that I could make sense of this loss and the things that would cause a young man to take his life on a winter evening.
I am thankful for Haiti; for holding me in her arms in a way that no one else could and letting me heal in the warmth of her women and children. I hope its okay and that I can also be of some use in return. I see that light I was taught to look for, shining there in the midst of so much loss.
Many people will have a New Years Resolution to hit the gym and get in shape and I will keep at trying to develop my strength and flexibility so as to to see that light in everyone and if possible, even grow it a little. I am not sure what that will look like. I am sure. like last year, it will have its unbarable surprises and turns in the road. I feel Nathan smiling at me and saying, "Oh Grandma, you can do it." and I think, yes, Nathan, what ever it is, I can.